In their book “Punahou 1841 – 1941”, Mary Alexander and Charlotte Dodge wrote, “From 1921 to 1924 there was a remarkable group of girl swimmers at Punahou”. How true! Of the leaders listed, the first three were Helen Moses, Mariechen Wehselau and Lillie Bowmer. Two of this trio have already been inducted into the “O” Men’s Hall of Fame; Mariechen in 1980 and Helen in 1981. This year the “O” Men have the pleasure of so honoring Lillie Bowmer MacKenzie.This article appears as originally published in the Fall 1986 issue of the Punahou Bulletin.
Born in 1906 at Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, Lillie donned her first bathing suit at the tender age of three or four and wet her feet in the ocean at a seaside resort called Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. In 1914 the family moved to Alameda, California where Lillie, already bitten by the “swimming bug”, braved the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay – and then in 1919 on to Honolulu and the balmy waves of Waikiki. Paradise at last!
Lillie entered her first swimming meet in February 1920, representing Liliuokalani School in a 40-yard school race and came in second to Kapiolani Kahanamoku who represented Kaahumanu School. Shortly afterwards she joined the Outrigger Canoe Club and started ten years of competitive swimming under the able coaching of the great swimming coach of our time – George “Dad” Center who was also Punahou’s swim coach.
Enrolling at Punahou, Lillie, an all-around swimmer, almost immediately began breaking long established records. She capped her brilliant high school career by being high point swimmer for two consecutive years in the annual Punahou Thurston Swimming Meet. Following Punahou she swam two years for the Casa Del Mar Club in Santa Monica, CA, following which she returned to Honolulu to continue her “winning ways”.
During her ten years of competitive swimming she competed in the following events: diving; freestyle 50, 100, 220 and 440 yards; backstroke and breaststroke 50 and 100 yards; relays 200 and 400 yards; and open water ocean races.
She won 39 gold, 21 silver, and 12 bronze medals plus a galaxy of ribbons and trophies.
She competed in Senior National Swimming meets in 1926 (Florida) and 1928 (New York). In 1923 she broke the world record in the 50 yard freestyle dash and then, in 1928 duplicated this feat in the 100 meter freestyle event. Also, in 1928 she represented Hawaii in the Olympic trials held in New York. She narrowly missed making the U.S. Team.
In 1930 Lillie retired from competitive swimming and turned her talents to outrigger canoe paddling where she competed for four years as a steersman for the Outrigger Canoe Club’s crews in various races. Recently asked to comment on her swimming and paddling career she remarked “All in all, those fourteen years were a happy and exciting period of my life, during which I made many wonderful and lasting friendships”. Lillie, welcome to the Hall of Fame.
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